Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Transformational Structure #6


Last night was the winter festival at Shearwater, the Steiner school that my kids attend. Parents, kids and teachers all gather outside to watch the 570 children perform on the grass amphitheatre with candles, costumes and chants. As we were standing around waiting, my mentor (whose child also attends) called me over, gestured for me to listen as he talked business with a successful local business man in the town that I live. So I stood and listened to them talk about numbers of people on the mail list, how a google add campaign could lift one aspect of business, schemes to lift the numbers of list, a plan to JV another income stream etc. etc.

As I took in their friendly business banter, I could feel my own business intentionality waking up… “Oh, I could this, and that. I must make my list happen, and campaign to get more people that way…” I came out of the fog, out of the sludge—suddenly, in a few moments, I was back feeling motivated, crystal clear and ready to act. Then I went to the meta-position and thought “Wow! This is what you are missing Jerry.” I understand, for about the 100th time, how critical it is to be in the energy field of others who share your aspirations, who vibrate in the same way, who want similar things, albeit wrapped in infinitely different forms.

The winter festival honours the longest night of the year, and sometimes I have been feeling this year as the longest night of my career. I find direction, I get lost. I find it again, lose it again. Not that my super objective ever gets lost, but the means whereby—the turns, twists, bends and reverses—these I keep discovering moment to moment, day by day, week after week.

In this condition, the primary challenge is motivation: keeping the fire alight—this is true for anyone, whether like me aiming to launch a new business by the mere sweat of my brow, or someone desperately seeking a job to pay the mortgage and care for the family (like me). Every day can feel insurmountable, the urge to seek refuge in behavioural distractions continuous. How can you manage?

That’s the subject of to-day’s 6th instalment on the deeper structure of transformational processes: you can not do it alone. You need mentors, teachers and people around you that offer support, that challenge and give in ways that you need to be able to carry on…

Stage 2: Decider


Think about this: what was the tool that opened up Alexander's investigation? It was a mirror. We can think of the mirror as functioning both literally (in Alexander's case) and metaphorically (in the case of teacher and student). The teacher is the mirror for the student: their primary job is to reflect back to the student the truthful information about what they are doing.

We don't change by just researching and analysing alone. At some point, we need to step up to the challenge of change and be willing to take risks, to let go of cherished beliefs, feelings and behaviours, move out of our 'comfort zone' and behave in ways that initially feel entirely alien and uncomfortable to us, even morally wrong in some cases. In the interest of achieving what we consciously wish, we need to subject ourselves to a state of great insecurity and turmoil. This is not something most people can do alone: you need help. You need a constant presence in your life that keeps reminding you to 'decide' to make this change. Whereas we talked about how the "Wisher" influences our learning plan, at this stage wish is not enough. We need a new influence, a new source of energy, now coming in the form of a "Decider" influence: our teacher, our group, some person or thing that keeps reflecting me back to me, just as Alexander needed to do before he could progress. If you look at the chapter, he writes three special paragraphs about how important the mirror was to his progress. (In Use of the Self, Chapter 1 “Evolution of A Technique.”)

Each stage is subtler than the last, so if you had trouble understanding the first Stage of the learning plan, you may be finding this stage even more mysterious. If it is clear to you, you will be excited by the implications that this second stage has in relation to your own teaching pedagogy and/or individual learning process.

An easy way to understand this stage is to imagine yourself or some other person you know with an obviously self-destructive habit that you have clearly seen needs to be changed. I can talk personally about my own past habit: I consumed excessive amounts of alcohol over many years. Originally I saw no harm in the habit, but through an innate process of research and analysis—Stage 1 of the learning plan—I came to the recognition that I needed to change.

So someone at Stage 2 of the learning plan already knows the problem, already recognizes the need to change. They may have many solutions in their mind (as I did) but somehow stay stuck (as I did). For me, just the wish to change was not strong enough—I needed more, I needed a "Decider" within me: in the form of an urge to be willing to do whatever was necessary to achieve the change I wanted.

How do you find your "Decider"?


The teacher is the "Decider" in relation to the student. Not that you make any choice about that: your ability to be a “Decider" for a student is entirely based on the student’s willingness to accept you as such.

If a student will not follow your suggestions, there is little you can do for them. This is true at the level of using touch, it is true at the level of behaviour. At the level of touch, I can not make a person's co-ordination change if they are unwilling for it to change. I may be able to force a change by skilful manipulation, but in my book that involves stepping over the line: now I am taking over the responsibility of the student to make the change on their own—my "hands on" is supplying everything. This can only result in an increasing relationship of dependency, simultaneously decreasing the autonomy of the student and their ability to consciously guide themselves. Isn't this the reverse of what the work is about?

Touch can certainly act as a 'motivator' for the student, waking them up to their potentiality, and helping to validate the truth of the information you are offering. This in turn can awaken the student’s willingness to listen and follow your advice, thus activating you as a powerful 'Decider' in their own mind. But it is still their choice that creates you as that in their mind, it does not come from your abilities or skill of touch alone.


Winning the trust and confidence of the student, by being an honest role model for what you are advocating, is the most essential tool you have for Stage 2 learning. Unless the student is willing to test out and be guided by what you are proposing, not much change will happen.

Teaching a student at Stage 2 means getting them to do more of the thinking on their own—lots of questions, practical experiments, constantly getting them to test their own ability to learn about themselves autonomously.

Being able to understand how a student is thinking about the problem is essential at this stage of development. Asking questions is an art—the right question often leads the student to discover the answer themselves. Teachers need to be able to learn ways to elicit information from the student, by coupling together their observation of the students' movement and language to guess at some of the 'invisible movements' present in the student's cognitive view. And if you don't know—ask them: what are you thinking about? Don't be satisfied with their first answer, keep questioning until you hear the answer your intuition was guessing was there…

To practice this art, in your teaching, start asking yourself the question: what does a person need to be thinking about in order to move and behave in this way? This kind of analytical skill, and the creativity to imagine what might be going on in a person's thinking, are essential tools to develop in order to guide a student at this Stage 2 of their work with themselves.


This stage corresponds with Alexander already knowing what he needed to do—the primary and secondary 'directions' he needed to project—yet finding himself unable to implement them:

"I set out to put this idea into practice, but I was at once brought up short by a series of startling and unexpected experiences. Like most people, I had believed up to this moment that if I thought out carefully how to improve my way of performing a certain act, I should be guided by my reasoning rather than by my feeling when it came to putting this thought into action, and that my "mind" was the superior and more effective directing agent. But the fallacy of this became apparent to me as soon as I attempted to employ conscious direction for the purpose of correcting some wrong use of myself which was habitual and therefore felt right to me. In actual practice I found that there was no clear dividing line between my unreasoned and my reasoned direction of myself, and that I was quite unable to prevent the two from overlapping. I was successful in employing my reasoning up to the point of projecting the directions which, after analysing the conditions of use present, I had decided were required for the new and improved use, and all went well as long as I did not attempt to carry these directions out for the purpose of speaking."

Harking back to my excessive drinking habit mentioned previously, I personally equate this stage to Alexander's words above like way: I knew I didn't want to drink. I would go out to meet my friends with this idea clearly and strongly in my intentions. Yet at the moment I meet with my friend, and found myself being offered a drink, it felt too wrong, too 'out of character' to say "No, I am not drinking tonight." So instead of doing what I intended to do, I would smile “Oh, why not?!” and have the drink. Like Alexander writes above, it didn’t always happen like that. Sometimes I could say no, sometimes not. But on the balance of it, the old behaviour prevailed far more many times than not, and I was at a loss what to do next.


NEXT INSTALLMENT: The secret and unique method Alexander devised for solving the problem of what to do when you don’t that which you said you would!

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